Hall of Human Life Exhibition Catalyst Sort

Sunday, June 1, 2008
Resource Type:
Front-End | Research and Evaluation Instruments | Survey | Interview Protocol | Evaluation Reports | Front-End
Environment Type: 
Exhibitions, Museum and Science Center Exhibits
General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals | Evaluators
Education and learning science | Health and medicine | Life science
Museum of Science, Boston, Museum of Science

Between February and June 2008, the Hall of Human Life content development team set out to create goals, messages, and content ideas for a new exhibition on human life. During this time period, the team decided that the exhibition would focus on the main message that Humans are changing and provide the visitors with three lenses for viewing the exhibition: an ecological lens, an anatomical lens, and an evolutionary lens. As an entry point to these lenses for visitors, the exhibit team generated five catalysts that correspond to the ecological lens and highlight how environmental factors can change and alter both anatomy and human evolution. These catalysts include the following: physical, maturational, dietary, microbial, and experiential. To help the team understand visitors' perceptions and comprehension of the three lenses and the five catalysts, the Museum of Science Research and Evaluation Department conducted a front-end evaluation that focused on answering the following question: How do visitors react to the idea that there are environmental (or ecological) factors that affect both the human body (anatomy) and human evolution? To answer this question, evaluators used interviews and on-line surveys that focused on specific factors within each of the catalyst categories and asked visitors to rate their level of awareness that these factors affect their body and human evolution. Audiences asked to participate in this study included visitors, who came to the Museum of Science during April 2008, and 3,000 members of the Museum's E-news list. In total, input was received from 337 Museum of Science visitors. Findings indicate that visitors had a variety of reactions to the factors that were the focus of this study. For a few of the factors (gravity, sunlight, temperature, canned/preserved foods, raw foods, viruses, vaccinations, and maturing & aging), participants were comfortable with the idea that these factors affect their bodies and human evolution. For other factors, participants were either surprised (text messaging technologies, language, and air travel) or unsure (artificial light, assistive technologies, and clothing) how the factor affects their bodies and/or human evolution. There are a number of possible reasons for the differences in how visitors reacted to these factors. First, participants seemed to have a greater understanding of how the natural factors affect their bodies and human evolution than man-made technologies. Many visitors thought that man-made technologies were newer and therefore have not had a chance to act on the body or human evolution. Second, in general, visitors are able to understand and articulate the types of changes a factor can have on their bodies, but they appeared to have a more difficult time articulating the mechanisms behind evolution. Lastly, visitors seemed to have different conceptions of what would cause effects on the body versus human evolution. Participants focused on physical changes as evidence that a factor affects your body. For human evolution, visitors focused on time as the most important evidence that a factor could affect human evolution. The appendix of this report includes interview protocol and surveys used in this study.

Team Members

Christine ReichChristine ReichEvaluator

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